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Contamination with ergot bodies (Claviceps purpurea sensu lato) of two horse pastures in Northern Germany


Because the occurrence of Claviceps in European pastures may have been overlooked to cause serious health problem for grazing animals, we documented the degree of Claviceps contamination in two horse pastures and estimated whether the horses could have ingested a critical quantity of alkaloids. We counted the Claviceps sclerotia and determined alkaloid levels using high performance liquid chromatography with fluorescence detection. Depending on the location, the number of sclerotia varied from 0.09 to 0.19 per square meter (central area) and from 0.23 to 55.8 per square meter (border strips). Alkaloid levels in individual sclerotia also varied in different genera of grasses, ranging from 0.98 ± 0.17 μg/kg in Agrostis sp. to 25.82 ± 9.73 μg/kg in Dactylis sp., equivalent to 0.98 μg/kg and 7.26 mg/kg. Sclerotia from Dactylis contained high levels of ergosine (0.209 % ± 0.100 %) and ergocristine (0.374 % ± 0.070 %). Depending on the localization in pastures, alkaloid levels in forage (dry matter, DM) ranged from 16.1 to 45.4 μg/kg in central areas and from 23.9 to 722 μg/kg in border strips. The amount of alkaloids that a horse could have ingested depended on its daily DM uptake, which was higher in the central areas (5.85 kg/day) than in the border strips (2.73 or 0.78 kg/day). In the central areas, this amount of alkaloids ranged from 94.2 to 265.9 μg/day; and in the border strips, from 65.3 (in 2.73 kg DM/day) to as much as 563.8 μg/day (in 0.78 kg DM/day). All these amounts are higher than the European averages for alkaloids ingested by horses via feedstuffs.

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The authors would like to thank the pasture owners who allowed us to work on their property; Kirsten Moritz and Susanne Ohlsen, who discovered the sclerotia in pastures, assisted in the field work, and provided data for the case reports; and Dr. Martina Buchholz and Jutta Barras-Akhnoukh for kindly helping with the analytical work.

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Correspondence to S. Aboling.

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Aboling, S., Drotleff, A.M., Cappai, M.G. et al. Contamination with ergot bodies (Claviceps purpurea sensu lato) of two horse pastures in Northern Germany. Mycotoxin Res 32, 207–219 (2016).

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  • Ergot alkaloids
  • Claviceps
  • Horse
  • Border strip